Hurricanes, Tornadoes & Earthquakes, Oh My!

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Recently, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and fires – all affecting the personal and professional lives of thousands – have taken over news headlines. As an employer, how do you prepare for these emergencies that affect the health, safety, and welfare of your workforce at home and at work?

One way to be as prepared as possible is to create an emergency action plan. At a minimum, this should include:

  • Establishing evacuation procedures and communicating them to every employee
  • Maintaining accurate emergency contact information
  • Establishing protocol to inform employees of any new and important developments – phone tree, intranet, recorded announcement, etc.

The planning shouldn't stop here though; simply having a plan isn't enough. There are a number of key steps to follow to ensure the safety of your employees and that they understand what to do in the event of an emergency. This can include:

  • Training workers to respond to emergencies which may occur in the workplace and at home
  • Instructing personnel on emergency plans and how to report incidents
  • Conducting specialized training for workers assigned special emergency tasks such as evacuation proctors, fire first–responders, medical first-responders, communications personnel
  • Ensuring all personnel know designated evacuation routes, where to assemble safely, and how to communicate during and after an emergency
  • Establishing plans and actions for assisting persons with disabilities and injured personnel
  • Scheduling and requiring participation in fire drills
  • Routinely inspecting work areas for hazards, reporting complications, and resolving problems immediately
  • Complying with hazardous communications requirements, safely storing materials, and following prescribed disposal guidelines
  • Communicating, ensuring understanding of, and enforcing safety policies and no smoking requirements

In addition to caring for the well-being of your workforce, it is equally as important to have alternative worksite arrangements and staffing options. This is where your plan should outline resource allocation including information on how employees may be asked to fill in in other departments should there not be enough staffing due to illness, death, or travel restrictions as well as identifying training needs so that they are adequately prepared to take on additional duties in emergencies.

Only after planning for the care of your workforce can you start planning to protect your technology. A few questions to think about are:
How will we maintain our financial and other critical data during emergencies?
Will technology be accessible during emergency situations?
What should happen if the facility is destroyed and with it the data needed for business operations?
By having these plans in place, you are now better equipped to manage operations with minimal losses and disruptions in the normal business flow.

Here is where HR REALLY steps in....

There are generally three employee groups based on the nature and magnitude of the emergency:

  1. Employees who are severely affected (including those who lost family members or homes, or those who are personally affected by severe illness)
  2. Employees who have experienced issues such as energy or transportation losses as a result of the disaster
  3. Employees who are not directly affected

Employers and HR professionals must develop policies for each employee group with consideration for their needs and issues.

HR must also evaluate the impact of a disaster or emergency on the organization's government reporting requirements. Emergency planning should take into consideration requirements with regard to OSHA, COBRA, state laws requiring delivery of paychecks, WARN Act notifications, I-9 reporting requirements, among others.

Unfortunately, employers do not start planning for a disaster until after one happens. It might be tedious and time-consuming, but when faced with an actual emergency, you will be thrilled that you have a plan in place.

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Guest July 27 2017
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